Baseball season is in full swing and the American League East is shaking out to be the most exciting division in the sport. From the undefeated Tampa Bay Rays to the underdog Baltimore Orioles, each team has shown early signs of a potential playoff run. At this point in the season, all five teams are in the top half of the league in Team OPS. Here is a look at each team and why they contribute to the most competitive, exciting division to watch this year.
Why The AL East is the Most Exciting Division in Baseball
After so many years spent disregarded, the Orioles are finally a threat in the American League. Last season was a fantastic display of the passion that can surround this team when they make a push for the playoffs. The O’s finished three games outside of a Wild Card spot and could certainly make another run despite heavy competition just in their own division.
The addition of more rookies will be one of the most enticing reasons to tune in to Orioles’ games. Adley Rutschman is the prime example from last season, finishing second in Rookie of the Year, and two more prospects look to join him as the foundation of this franchise. Gunnar Henderson and Grayson Rodriguez are the second and fifteenth top-rated prospects in baseball, according to Keith Law of The Athletic. Even more prospects in the pipeline could make a significant impact.
Other returning veterans provide a solid lineup that can win games as the rookies find their stride. Anthony Santander and Ryan Mountcastle are both coming off impressive seasons with an OPS+ of 117 and 120, respectively. Dean Kremer is one of the most interesting arms in the rotation as he is looking to build upon a career year in 2022, but he has had two rough starts against division opponents this season.
READ MORE: Will the Orioles hit their O/U?
Boston was overlooked heading into this season given their general lack of pizazz in the free agency market. However, the veterans that they did bring are talented players along with signing a long-term deal with Rafael Devers. Justin Turner and Adam Duvall have proven track records and will be reliable bats in the lineup (once Duvall heals from his broken wrist, of course). The team might lack the star-power name recognition, but they are currently third in all of baseball in team OPS at .814.
The signing of Masataka Yoshida was met with some doubt, but he has impressed early with a .378 on-base percentage and a pair of stolen bases. His adjustment to Major League pitching will be a major factor in the team’s success this season. He has struggled to make hard contact so far, but his two strikeouts compared to six walks is a promising sign for his contributions at the plate.
The opposite is true for their rotation. The Red Sox rank 21st in team ERA. How sustainable is this approach to rely on their hitters producing like some of the best in the league? A bounce back season from Chris Sale would be a welcome development, but he has already given up four home runs in his two starts. While there are other factors to consider, such as colder weather in the early parts of the season, his velocity is down across all of his pitches.
How could you follow up a record-breaking, sixty-two home run campaign from Aaron Judge? Well, he is off to a good start with four home runs in his first nine games. The Yankees offense could be more dangerous this season, even if Judge does not hit the insane numbers that he did in 2022. A healthy DJ LeMahieu is a massive boon for the top of the lineup. Will Aaron Hicks and Josh Donaldson be able to bounce back, too?
The lack of offensive additions in the offseason is hardly a problem as a group of rookies looks to fill significant roles in their season with World Series aspirations. Oswaldo Cabrera had a 110 OPS+ in his rookie season. Anthony Volpe, the highly touted rookie, might take time to excel at the plate, but he has already made an impact with his triple to spark a rally in a win against the Orioles.
Injuries have already impacted the Yankees’ plans for the season with players like Carlos Rodon and Harrison Bader expecting to be key players heading into the season. Their return will be necessary for the Yankees to reach their ceiling this year, but other players are looking to prove themselves in the meantime. Jhony Brito has capitalized on the opportunity, allowing a single run over ten innings in his first two Major League games. He might not be a top tier pitcher, but with several players fighting for the fifth spot in the rotation, he has made an excellent case for himself.
READ MORE: Will the Yankees hit their O/U?
Tampa Bay Rays
Who saw that coming? The Rays have already locked down the win in all nine games, spurred on by an exceptional offense and shutdown pitching. It might not be surprising to see the Rays lead the league in Team OPS and Team ERA.
Let’s start with the offense. The Rays are eternally viewed as overperformers given their payroll, but they have some truly talented players in their lineup. Wander Franco could be in for his breakout season with four home runs already, a pair of stolen bases, and a 223 OPS+. Okay, okay, that might be a bit of a small sample size to look at that OPS+ seriously, but look at that number! Randy Arozarena is up to his usual shenanigans with a .318/.333/.629 slash line and eleven RBI’s. The starting lineup features six players with an OPS over 1.000. It’s early, sure… But that is one wild way to start a season.
The pitching is similarly exciting, dripping with potential for a dominant year. Shane McClanahan and Drew Rasmussen make for one of the most terrifying duos in the American League. Jeffrey Springs might just be the breakout pitcher of the year, too. In two starts, he has allowed no runs and struck out nineteen batters in thirteen innings. This might not mean much after two starts, but his most recent outing was seven no-hit innings against the Oakland Athletics. While the Athletics are not a threatening team, it was his first career start where he was allowed to go more than six innings.
Toronto Blue Jays
The Blue Jays just won a Game of the Year candidate in their ten inning, 12-11 win over the Los Angeles Angels, and it sums up their season pretty well. They have had some highs and lows already, but the offense looks good enough to carry them to the postseason. Bo Bichette and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. are hitting like an All-Star duo, and Matt Chapman has been one of the best players in baseball so far. Chapman leads the league with fourteen hits already, good enough for a .475 average. Of course, that isn’t sustainable, but the core of this Blue Jays lineup is that much more dangerous if Chapman continues performing like this after back-to-back season with an average under .230.
Daulton Varsho might just be the newest addition to this lineup already laden with fantastic players. As Kaitlyn McGrath of The Athletic noted, his first hit with the Blue Jays was his hardest hit ball of his career. The past two seasons, he has been slightly better than average and will look to have his breakout season as the Blue Jays chase down playoff success after a disappointing series in the Wild Card round.
The pitching is as interesting as any in the division with Kevin Gausman and Alek Manoah leading the way. The back of the rotation is a question mark with furiously enticing players like José Berríos and Yusei Kikuchi. They have shown moments of their amazing talent, yet the overwhelming majority of their work the past two seasons has been disappointing. Will the team need them to step up if the Blue Jays want to compete for the division? If they are inconsistent, will Gausman and Manoah be enough to make a deep playoff run?
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